Friday, March 6, 2009


These mysterious moments are grace points that can result in breakthrough. But they aren't a given, are they?

HE CAME TO HIS SENSES. I'm reading the story of the lost son (Luke 15:11-24) and I notice what happens at the farthest distance from home, at the deepest point of misery, in the darkest hour of his life. Right there, "he came to his senses" (15:17). The whole story turns on this moment. What an awesome thing!

MISERY INDEX? How's that happen? Is it that he hits "rock bottom," something folks in recovery tell me is different for everyone but the same in that you've got to hit it before you get serious about getting and staying sober? Is it that his misery index goes so high it triggers an inexplicable "aha" -- a hair-brained, long-shot idea that he could get up and go back to become a slave for his former father? How is it that grace comes to this most ungrateful and ungracious, wasteful and wasted person at the very moment it would seem evil is about to declare a fait accompli on him?

FROM PERSECUTOR TO ADVOCATE. A different kind of awakening is recounted in The Acts of the Apostles. Saul of Tarsus, a man deeply invested in Pharisaic Judaism and active in its defense against heresy, is on his way to Damascus to find and arrest followers of the Way of Jesus of Nazareth, when he experiences a blinding light that knocks him down and a voice that calls out to him. This awakening is no less a turning point than that of the lost son. It transformed Saul’s way of seeing and acting and marked the beginning of his transition to becoming one of the most outstanding advocates for Christianity.

REPEATED BREAKTHROUGHS. I'm intrigued by such spiritual awakenings. And not just these out-of-the-pits awakenings, but spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and relational breakthroughs that occur throughout life. I think I've had several of them along the way to age 50; I pray I will experience more. What's particularly interesting to me is that breakthroughs tend to (1) occur out of a crisis or search of some sort, (2) come at our blind side, (3) at a time when we may least expect it, (4) and become a critical turning point for our future. There is a serendipitous and grace-gift quality to them. Have you had such experiences? And what do you make of these awakenings?

HOW MANY CRISES CAN WE EXPERIENCE? I recall M. Scott Peck talking about seeing how many crises could be crammed into one life (he might not have used the word "crammed") for the sake of the breakthrough and spiritual/emotional growth that tends to come out of such wits-end experiences. I can't find that quote, but I came across another Peck statement that relates:
"The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are
feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in
such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our
ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
CAN'T "MAKE IT HAPPEN." These seem not to be experiences that can be reproduced, scheduled, or marketed (though I do believe such formula-bottling and marketing is, in fact, doing brisk business in spiritual--yes, including church--circles these days). But I am wondering if we can cultivate conditions in our lives where awakening and breakthrough are at least more likely to occur?

FIVE WAYS TO CULTIVATE BREAKTHROUGH. I am NOT recommending putting oneself in the condition of the lost son. But noticing the situations out of which I have experienced a few breakthroughs, I suggest five ways to cultivate the conditions of awakening--all the while knowing that grace can, does, and will occur totally apart from any conditions any of us can postulate or imagine.

1. Unplug and tune in. I wonder how likely it is that we will “hear God” amid the noise of high technology, constant entertainment, and what Richard Foster calls “manyness and muchness?” Try turning off the gadgets; get away from noise. Withdraw from chatter for a while. Be quiet for a spell and listen for God’s “still, small voice.”

2. Acknowledge and embrace your own brokenness. We compare ourselves to others constantly, often seeing our relative “good-ness” in comparison to others’ relative “bad-ness.” This is self-justification and it blocks God’s grace. The Bible says: “Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up.” The Apostle Paul promoted the saying among the so-called sanctified: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst."

3. Serve others. Many have experienced spiritual breakthroughs after they made a decision to serve others--and followed through. Awakenings rarely occur when we’re self-absorbed in our own seeking and anxiousness. Do something for someone else. No strings attached. Don't serve to save. Don't serve to witness. Don't serve for reward or brownie points. Just serve. "Spend yourself on behalf of the hungry," Isaiah challenges.

4. Put yourself in a place that causes growth. Stop avoiding opportunities for growth. Don’t be a slave to your fears. Go beyond your limit. Adventure forth in faith. Develop an inquirer’s heart. Take a calculated risk. Go back to school. Break denial. Avoid difficulty no longer. Determine to gain knowledge and, with it, pray for wisdom. Breakthrough often comes by moving intentionally beyond our comfort zones.

5. Contemplate the plight of others. Instead of accepting stereotypes and what media talking heads say and academics theorize about people and life, try to look at things from the point of view of ones who are hurting, harrassed, taken advantage of, labeled, marginalized, poor, etc. As a Christian, I ask sincerely for Jesus' eyes to see others…and then pray for grace and courage to respond as Jesus would.

WAKE UP, O SLEEPER! Here's another rather obscure and unreferenced saying that intrigues me: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you" (Ephesians 5:13). Sounds like one of my camp counselors: "Rise and shine! It's great to be alive!" Day and light and grace invite us. What are we waiting for?

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Peace!


  1. Anonymous4:29 PM

    This quote would seem to fit.
    "Man has a claim on God, a divine claim for any pain, want, disappointment, or misery that will help to make him what he ought to be. He has a claim to be punished, and to be spared not one pang that may urge him toward repentance; yea, he has a claim to be compelled to repent; to be hedged in on every side, to have one after another of the strong sharp-toothed sheep-dogs of the Great Shepherd sent after him, to thwart him in any desire, foil him in any plan, frustrate him of any hope, until he comes to see at length that nothing will ease his pain, nothing make life a thing worth having, but the presence of the living God within him; that nothing is good but the will of God; nothing noble enough for the desire of man but oneness with the eternal. For this God must make him yield his very being, that He himself may enter in and dwell with him." George MacDonald

  2. Thanks for sharing this quote, "annonymous."

    Personally, I don't conceive of the Biblical God's activity in prevenient grace toward humans in general or in particular in the terms or manner George MacDonald describess.

    MacDonald's strong predestinarian and irresistable grace perspective seems to impose on God an "I will have you whether you like it or not" scenario. Certainly, the "Hound of Heaven" theme is present in the Bible and I am sure some folks would descscribe their experience in MacDonald's terms. This is a contrast to what Brennan Manning describes as the "relentless tenderness of Jesus" and my own experiences to this point.

    It's one thing to say, as MacDonald does, that God would drive the lost son into his utterly lost state in order to teach him a lesson, gain his allegiance, and secure his soul; it is another to say that God in grace seeks us wherever we run, wherever we hide, and there speaks love and hope and invitation to us. I think this latter perspective more consistently reflects the love of God and free will of humanity described in the Bible.


Your tasteful comments and/or questions are welcome. Posts are moderated only to reduce a few instances of incivility.